Negotiating like Chuck Norris

Photo by bossanostra

“The square root of Chuck Norris is pain. Do not try to square Chuck Norris.”

For the better part of my life, when I would envision a negotiation, I’d see in front of me an iconic tough-guy-lawyer in an expensive suit. Separated in birth from his twin brother, Godzilla, nothing would stop him from haggling ferociously until the other party are all crying like little babies.

This radical view of the process is far from the ideal negotiator, or so I was relieved to find out while reading Bargaining for Advantage by Richard Shell. This popular business book tries to break down the negotiation process into steps, while providing some guidance for each step.

Hereby is provided a brief summary of what I found most interesting within the book, sometimes revised to my own experience.

Negotiation: Any interaction between two people desiring contradictory objectives. Much of our business & social interaction falls in this category, e.g. family relations, business interaction, customer service, duck hunting (duck hunting?!) etc. etc.

Every negotiation is somewhere on a scale between “Relationship” and “Transaction”.

A relationship type of negotiation is one where the most important goal is to resolve the conflict in a way that would leave all parties satisfied. The cost is of lesser importance, and concessions are often made generously.
A transaction is a one-time deal with no strings attached. It is more of a haggling situation, similar to what I described at the beginning of this article.

The Half-way compromise is very popular and considered “just”. It’s a good idea to stake your preliminary claims as high as possible. The better you can make your stake look credible, the better the compromise would be.

Some people are so eager to compromise that they miss creative “win-win” situations in which both sides don’t have to give up anything. Being patient and thoroughly understanding what the other side wants is the key.

Seek Leverage. Identifying your strong points and making sure the other party is aware of them can significantly change the negotiation outcome. Leverage can include: A time constraint, competing offers, fear of missing a one-time opportunity etc.

Establishing a personal relationship can really boost the negotiation process. The preliminary phase of the negotiation should not mention any specific terms nor price. It should revolve around information exchange and relationship building.

Contrary to popular belief, research shows that “cooperative negotiatiors” are almost twice as successful as “competitive negotiators”. This is reassuring news, but it doesn’t mean your tactic should be ×´compromise×´. It means you should be attentive to the other side’s needs without forgetting which side of the table you’re sitting at.

If you are selling your house, it is a good opportunity to hire that Godzilla-in-a-suit-guy.


At the very beginning of my freelance career I was referenced by a friend to a company who offered me work. After making sure we are a right match, management asked me to quote my salary. Asking the employee to quote his salary first works well for companies, since individuals are usually too embarrassed to quote high prices. Moreover, mistakingly quoting a low price could allow the company to immediately accept, and later the employee would not feel comfortable to revoke his initial quote.

Knowing that I was relatively unknown and wanting to put a foot in the door, I asked for a modest price and was immediately hired. After two months of working, I started side-working on a startup of my own, and figured that my time was worth much more than what was being paid at the company. Thus, I announced my intention to quit the position and pursue my own startup full-time. At the same time, several key employees at the company were leaving. The company managers, being very satisfied with my work, and quite troubled with the drift-off of key players, asked me to think creatively about any possible way of staying with them.

At this point in time I had built both a relationship and some credibility by working for the company for a short time period. Knowing the state of mind of the company, it was obvious that I had two forms of leverage in the situation:

  1. I was perfectly content with leaving just as much as staying, thus job-security was not an issue
  2. Management was afraid of losing more personnel

The first of these leverages was made clear to management through my intention of quitting altogether; The second was of course a speculation of mine that never surfaced. This knowledge allowed me to feel comfortable with asking for better pay, at reduced hours. It was an educated guess at how much they would be willing to spend, and it worked. All along the process, I maintained a friendly, open relationship with management. It was an extremely rewarding experience. Perhaps it’s time for me to revise my ultimate Chuck Norris ideal?

“Chuck Norris can be so gentle that daisies around him are arrested for violence crimes.”

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Posted Thursday, May 13th, 2010 under Growing Software.


  1. “In soviet Russia, Chuck Norrises you.”
    Seriously, though, you haven’t mentioned much of the win-win situations. This usually happens when both parties were interested in the deal for completely different reasons, like employment.
    Employment deals are an opportunity for creativity. The employer creates a long term relationship with the employee. Each employee is different and values different things. Sometimes a title will be worth more than dollar value. Or a scholarship for an MBA. Or a car. Or a trip to Japan. Both sides get more: the employee is more happy and productive so the employer gets more done for less cost.

  2. I found that most people (especially when asking for salary) are afraid that their demand will offend the other side and make them look greedy.

    And when faced with a seasoned HR person, who has done hundreds of such negotiations, they will be pitifully out played


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